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Swarm Season



I’ve been keeping a close eye on our second year bee hive this spring. The hive made it through the winter with flying colors, and it was bursting at the seams with a very strong population so I split the hive into two last month on Hive Splitting Day. Despite splitting the hive and adding an extra box to the hive, it still seemed like there was a lot more activity outside the hive than I had seen all last summer and since May is swarm season I knew there was a possibility that the hive would swarm. One afternoon I noticed several hundred, possibly close to a thousand bees flying in a wide circle over the hive about 10 feet up in the air. I had never seen this behavior before, but I suspected that they were about to swarm. I kept checking on them every few minutes for a half an hour or so, but I never saw a swarm take shape. It looked like most of them eventually landed on the front and the roof of the hive and later went back inside. That afternoon I took several walks around our property looking and listening for a bee swarm but I found nothing. A few days later I did a quick hive inspection to see if I could tell whether the hive had indeed swarmed. The hive still seemed very full of bees, and there was still a lot of honey in the hive so I rearranged the boxes as I should have done when I split the hive last month, added a second honey super (empty box for them to store honey in), and decided that all was well.

The following weekend when I went down to check on the hive, there was no doubt in my mind that the hive was swarming. This time the bees were again circling overhead, but instead of circling over the hive they were flying in circles over a dense patch of young fir saplings and shrubs, and I could see them flying down into the vegetation and I could hear a very loud buzzing, much different than the usual sound of the hive. I carefully made my way through the blackberry to where I could see the bees flying downward and sure enough, there was a large mass of bees settling in on one of the fir saplings. Rats! I was dismayed that my attempts to prevent the hive from swarming by splitting the hive and adding additional hive boxes had not worked. But at the same time, I was happy that the population was strong enough that they felt the need to swarm, as it is the natural progression of a thriving bee colony.

I considered capturing the swarm and setting up a third hive, or possibly recombining it with one of my two hives if it seemed like the population size of the other two hives could use a boost later in the year. But it ended up being quite a busy few days at the farm with the new baby chicks hatching and a few other farm projects in the works, so I didn’t have a chance to capture the swarm. Also, the position of the swarm was not ideal for my first time capturing a swarm which made me a bit hesitant to try. Overnight the swarm had moved onto the trunk of the tree from the side branch, which would make for a somewhat difficult capture so I decided it was not meant to be and left them to follow-through with their plan.

I had read a lot of discouraging information about how depressing it can be to open up a hive after it has swarmed. Half or more of the bees may be gone in the initial swarm plus any subsequent after swarms. Also, prior to a swarm the bees will gorge themselves on honey in preparation for leaving the hive and going to a new location where they won’t have any food stores. I did a hive inspection a few days after the swarm, and I was surprised to still see that the hive still appeared to be very full of bees and the honey super still had a lot of honey. To be honest, I still have a lot to learn, but with every month that goes by and with every hive inspection I do, I am learning more about the stages of hive development. Both the original hive and the new split hive appear to be successful, and it looks like we’ll be able to harvest some honey this summer.

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